Regardless of what they've done or will do during free agency, the Baltimore Ravens have a number of positions where they could simply use more young, high-level talent.
With the 16th overall pick in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, and four of the top 100 picks overall, they should have the opportunity to obtain both quality and quantity. Here are four areas in which the team should be looking for young talent and an idea of what it might be able to find.
For sheer numbers reasons, cornerback has been the position most popularly connected to the Ravens in the first round of mock drafts. Florida's Teez Tabor (a Washington, D.C., native), Washington's Sidney Jones, Alabama's Marlon Humphrey and Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore are all expected to be selected in the first round. Other early-round options include Tabor's Gators teammate Quincy Wilson and Jones' Huskies teammate Kevin King, who was measured at 6-foot-3 at the NFL Scouting Combine Feb. 28-March 6 -- making him the biggest in the group of corners expected to go in the early rounds.
But perhaps the most fascinating name among the corners expected to go in the early rounds is USC's Adoree' Jackson. In addition to collecting five interceptions a season ago, Jackson was a tremendous playmaker on special teams and returned four punts or kicks for touchdowns. Given the Ravens' many other needs, it's easy to forget how much they could use an upgrade in that department as well.
It is commonly believed Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams will be off the board before the Ravens get on the clock at No. 16. But Western Michigan's Corey Davis (whose toughness has garnered him comparisons to former Raven Anquan Boldin) and Washington's John Ross (who posted a record 4.22 time in the 40-yard dash at the combine) could both be in the mix. Ross' speed would seem to be a particularly good fit, considering quarterback Joe Flacco's massive arm.
Other early-round options for the Ravens could include highly productive Eastern Washington receiver Cooper Kupp (who caught 73 touchdowns during his college career), USC's JuJu Smith-Schuster (who some analysts view as the best all-around receiver in the class) and Florida State's Travis Rudolph. Considering the Ravens' emphasis on character in recent years, Rudolph might be a desirable choice, as he made headlines for all of the right reasons last season when he befriended a boy with autism during a visit to a local middle school. I'd encourage you to go find the story, but only if you're in an area where no one will be able to see your tears.
There are a number of potential early-round pass rush options for the Ravens, including those who profile more naturally as rush linebackers (including Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham, UCLA's Takkarist McKinley, Temple's Haason Reddick, Alabama's Tim Williams and Wisconsin's T.J. Watt) and those who profile more naturally as rush ends (including Tennessee's Derek Barnett and Michigan's Taco Charlton). The Ravens are more likely to be interested in the natural stand-up players considering their 3-4 defense, although there isn't a player on this list who wouldn't tell you they're capable of doing both.
From the group, Watt clearly stands out because of his family connection. You probably know his brother, Derek, plays for the Chargers. His brother Justin James is a bit of a football-er as well. Williams would make sense because general manager Ozzie Newsome hasn't selected a player from Alabama since 2014, which only feels like the longest they've ever gone without taking a player from the GM's alma mater. (They actually didn't select a former Crimson Tide player between cornerback Ralph Staten in 1997 and tight end Terry Jones in 2002.) But Williams' background is likely a concern, as he admitted to multiple failed drug tests during his collegiate career. Perhaps fellow former Alabama pass rusher Ryan Anderson could fill the Ravens' void instead.
Perhaps the most controversial question you could ask a Ravens fan about the 2017 NFL Draft is whether they'd be willing to spend the 16th pick on a running back. Some will tell you they like the young players the Ravens have. Some will say they'd never spend a first-round pick on a back, despite the success Rams running back Todd Gurley and Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott experienced during their rookie seasons. Others would be more supportive of the idea, particularly given the quality of the backs expected to go early in this year's draft.
LSU's Leonard Fournette and Florida State's Dalvin Cook are both so good they could come off the board even before the Ravens' selection. Stanford's Christian McCaffrey is one of the more polarizing players in the early rounds, although NFL fans seem to be convinced the football gods will see to it that the rushing/receiving/returning threat will somehow find his way to New England at No. 32 overall.
And then there's Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon, who is viewed as an early-round talent but who could slip due to his 2014 assault of a female at a Norman, Okla., restaurant and the video of the incident that surfaced. But the Ravens have said they won't take players with domestic violence in their background and have suggested Mixon falls into that camp.
Issue 231: March 2017